Riverhead begins boys hoops season shorthanded

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Brandon Tolliver is fully recovered after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason.

The start of basketball season can always be a little tricky in Riverhead. This year is no different.

As the football team marches into the Long Island championship Friday to face Nassau champion Carey, the basketball team stands by waiting for the cavalry to return.

Practices started last week in Riverhead and the Blue Waves, during an extended try-out period, have been practicing with seven varsity players.

“We’re a little thin,” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti.

The Blue Waves went through this last year as well and it hardly slowed them down. Riverhead won the League III championship, its first since 1997, in a thrilling season that ended with a playoff loss to Longwood.

“We still have some good pieces on the team, so we’re going to be OK,” Rossetti said. “It’s just a matter of taking those pieces and merging them with the other kids from football once they come back and making it a cohesive unit.”

Rossetti admitted the team is probably about five days behind most teams. And that might lead to a slow start to the season.

“The good thing about these kids, they play with each other all the time,” Rossetti said. “They’re familiar with each other that way. It’s a matter of them getting on the same page in terms of defensive schemes and offensive schemes.”

The Blue Waves lost two of their “big three” from last year to graduation. But they do return senior Brandon Tolliver, who had a superb season last year and was a key part of the league championship team.

Tolliver is coming off the most challenging offseason of his young career. In March, while practicing with his AAU team, Tolliver tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

After the practice, Tolliver approached Rossetti and told him his leg hurt. Rossetti told him to ice it, but Tolliver’s instincts told him it was worse.

He underwent an MRI, which revealed he needed surgery.

The silver lining was the injury happened just after basketball season ended, giving Tolliver eight months to rehab for the start of this season.

“I give his parents a lot of credit,” Rossetti said. “They did their research. They got a good doctor. They gave him his workout plan, they brought him to his physical therapist. And he’s going to be a success story.”

The way Tolliver has been playing during the preseason, no one would ever know he underwent surgery, Rossetti said.

“He looks just like his old self,” he said. “He came back in better shape than he’s ever been. He added some muscle mass to his frame. His jump shot is dramatically improved.”

Rossetti said Tolliver will transition this year from a post player to more of a wing. His improved jumper will make him more of a threat from the perimeter.

The Blue Waves get right into their scrimmages Saturday with a game at Mattituck. They’ll also scrimmage East Islip before opening the non-league season on the road at Bellport Dec. 9.

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